REVIEW — Solaris (1972)

The fashion these days is to treat creative collaboration in the way that medieval dynasties treated royal marriage: Take one thing you like, add another thing you like, and what you are supposed to get is something doubly-awesome. However, the truth is that some creative marriages result in nothing more than the artistic equivalent of Prince Charles: Grotesquely ugly and malformed creatures that have nothing to offer but the weight of their genetic pedigrees.

Though by no means as hideous as Charles Windsor, I have never been entirely convinced by Andrei Tarkovsky’s adaptation of a novel by the great Polish science fiction writer Stanislaw Lem. FilmJuice have my review of Solaris, which was released this week on Blu-ray.

Historically, my problem with the film has always been that while Tarkovsky seemed quite happy to strip out the novel’s engagement with the idea that it might be impossible to achieve meaningful communication with alien species, he struggled to find anything to replace it beyond some rather hand-wavy comments about guilt, memory and the power of obsession. This viewing of the film allowed me to move beyond that assessment and appreciate a lot of the things the film does right (it’s quite a lengthy review) but I think Solaris’ relative lack of success actually tells us quite a bit about Tarkovsky’s methods and what type of material works best with those methods:

Tarkovsky himself described the film as an artistic failure because it failed to escape the limits of genre in the same way as Tarkovsky’s later Stalker developed beyond the limits of Arkady and Boris Strugatsky’s Roadside Picnic. While Stalker remains a beautiful and thoughtful work of science fiction, it is hard to disagree with Tarkovsky’s assessment.

The problem is that though Tarkovsky was undoubtedly a cinematic genius, his genius lay not in directly approaching specific ideas but in orbiting those ideas and inviting audiences to draw their own conclusions through the careful placement of imagery and references. On a purely practical level, ideas that audiences winkle out for themselves tend to have a lot more impact than ideas that are dumped in their laps. On a more theoretical level, requiring audiences to do some work for themselves means that every vision of Tarkovsky’s films is different and exquisitely personal to the person who first beheld it.

Despite being the only Tarkovsky film to win a Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival, Solaris feels like a minor Tarkovsky as the juxtaposition of ideas and images is forced to play second fiddle to the kind of dialogue-based exposition that is common in both written and filmed science fiction. The Tarkovsky films we create in our own heads will always be more satisfying than the Tarkovsky films that exist on the screen and Solaris is a less satisfying and engaging film because Tarkovsky gives his audience less space in which to construct their own interpretations.

 

 

 

 

REVIEW – Moon (2009)

Sometimes it isn’t easy to love the cinema.  Increasingly, the greatest popular art form of the 20th Century has become a means of oppression  :  Every year, the summer blockbuster season lasts that little bit longer.  The season of empty months.  Months during which the few decent films that do make it into cinemas are instantly forced out by over-hyped sequels and works of distorted genre.  Works so disjointed and violent in their imagery that they have come to resemble twisted parodies of the world we know.  Works that do not seek to elevate our collective humanity but to pervert it by filling our poor throbbing skulls with whole new vistas of psychosis and paranoia.  Vistas we can only escape from with the help of consumer products, the antics of boy wizards and bellicose robots.  Vistas produced by a media-industrial complex that keeps us supine and malleable lest we realise the living hell that we have made of our collective existence.  A collective existence so cruel and unhinged that were we to grasp its true nature for even a second we would all run screaming into the streets, tearing at our clothes and flesh in a hideous and brutal attempt to somehow get clean and free of a system that has crushed us beneath its heel for far too long.

But then a film comes along that seems to recognise all of this.

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